Who Decides Whether Use of Deadly Force Is Justified in 'Stand Your Ground' Killings?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 23, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Florida's 'stand your ground' law has been controversial since its inception, perhaps never more so than in the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin. And in the fourteen years since the law was first enacted, legislators, law enforcement, and courts seem no closer to providing clarity on when and how it should be applied.

Take this weekend's case of Michael Drejka and Markeis McGlockton in Clearwater. Surveillance footage showed Drejka confronting McGlockton's girlfriend after she parked in a handicapped space. When McGlockton exited the store, he pushed Drejka away from the car and to the ground. Drejka pulled out a gun and shot McGlockton in the chest, and the latter died after fleeing back into the store. Police on Saturday announced they would not arrest Drejka, on the basis of the state's "stand your ground" protections.

Wide "Bookends"

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the shooting "is within the bookends of 'stand your ground' and within the bookends of force being justified." He added, "I'm not saying I agree with it, but I don't make that call." Florida's "stand your ground" statute reads:

A person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. A person who uses or threatens to use deadly force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground if the person using or threatening to use the deadly force is not engaged in a criminal activity and is in a place where he or she has a right to be.

Sheriff Gualtieri said the Florida Legislature created a "subjective standard" for determining whether the person who used force was in fear of bodily harm, based on the person's "reasonable belief" rather than objective factors. Gualtieri did say the case would be forwarded to the State Attorney's Office for a final decision.

Wrongful Death and Justifiable Use of Force

The decision not to arrest Drejka, who is white, was yet another political flashpoint for Florida's "stand your ground" law after it sparked protests Saturday at the scene of the shooting. McGlockton, the victim, is black. "It's a wrongful death," McGlockton's girlfriend told The Tampa Bay Times. "It's messed up. Markeis is a good man ... He was just protecting us, you know? And it hurts so bad."

"I don't make the law -- we enforce the law," Gualtieri told reporters. "And I'm going to enforce it the way it's written, the way the Legislature's intended for it to be applied. And others can have the debate about whether they like it or not."

That debate isn't going to end any time soon.

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